Monday, April 29, 2013

Crash Course in the Steelers Draft Class

The 2013 NFL Draft is in the books and the Steelers came out with 9 players, trading away a 3rd round pick from next year's draft to acquire a 4th round pick from Cleveland in this draft. At the end of the day that wasn't a bad move as they should get at least 1 if not 2 compensatory picks in the 3rd round of next year's draft for losing Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis.

Round 1

Jarvis Jones
OLB - Georgia

Jones left USC after his freshman year when he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. After transferring to Georgia and sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, Jones lit up the best conference in the nation. In his first year at Georgia (redshirt sophomore year) he led the SEC with 13.5 sacks and followed it up by leading the nation in sacks this past season with 14.5. Jones has a ridiculously quick first step and can be an absolutely dominant pass rusher. The Steelers are a perfect spot for Jones as he can challenge Jason Worlids (who only has one year left on his contract) this year with the plan for him to step into a starting role next season.

Round 2

Le'Veon Bell
RB - Michigan State

The Steelers had been tied to Le'Veon Bell for much of the draft season. They reportedly took him out to dinner before his Pro Day and spent time with him at the Combine. Bell's athleticism is without question and some scouts have called him the best pass-blocking and receiving combo back in the draft. Bell should challenge Jonathan Dwyer for a starting spot right away and could be the Steelers feature back of the future. Bell was clearly the Steelers second round target, and the only reason this might give you to shake your head is that they chose him with Alabama RB Eddie Lacy still on the board. At this point we should probably just nickname him "The Prescription."

Round 3

Markus Wheaton
WR - Oregon State

Wheaton is a talented receiver with speed to spare. He clocked a 4.4 at the Combine and Tomlin stated he plays faster than that. Holy crap. Wheaton put up huge numbers this year, surpassing 90 yards in all but two games and finding the end zone 11 times. He is great with the ball in his hands and can make moves in space. Wheaton is an ideal receiver for Todd Haley's offense that hinges on getting the ball out quickly and letting receivers make plays with the ball in their hands. The only concern about Wheaton is that he lets the ball get into his chest too much and doesn't catch with his hands away from his body.

Round 4

Shamarko Thomas
S - Syracuse

Thomas is an athletic freak. At only 5'9" he was one of the shortest safeties in the draft, but he lit up the combine running a 4.42 40-yard dash, putting up 28 reps on the bench press and jumping 40.5 inches vertically and 133 in the broad jump. All of those numbers were at the top of the safety class. Thomas can fly around the field and has decent ball skills and has the explosion to contend for jump balls with taller receivers. He has a linebacker's mentality and isn't afraid to stick his nose in against the run and can play either down in the box or as a single high safety. This pick gives the Steelers insurance as Clark has one year left on his deal and Polamalu has two. It wouldn't be surprising to see Thomas starting this season if Clark or Polamalu are injured. Thomas also has the notoriety of being the only person to trip over the finish line of the 40-yard dash.

Landry Jones
QB - Oklahoma

Landry Jones is somewhat of an enigma as a quarterback. He was a highly-touted recruit who took over as Oklahoma's quarterback after Sam Bradford graduated. He started all four years, attempting over 440 passes every season (and over 550 his sophomore, junior and senior years). However, his best year came as a sophomore when he threw for over 4700 yards and 38 touchdowns. Jones was considered a Heisman contender entering his junior season, but did not perform up to expectations. He opted to stay in school for his senior season rather than enter a draft stocked with Luck, RGIII, Tannehill and Weeden. His senior year didn't do much to build on his lackluster junior campaign, and Jones struggled the most in crunch time. He is capable of making all the throws in the book but is maddeningly inconsistent. With the Steelers, he will have the opportunity to be the #3 quarterback this season and compete with Bruce Gradkowski for the #2 job next season. The Steelers needed to get younger at quarterback, and they did that with this pick. There's also the benefit of making this man roll around in his grave.

Round 5

Terry Hawthorne
CB - Illinois

Hawthorne is a prototypical Steelers corner, measuring at 6'0" 195 pounds. He has the size and strength to match up on the outside but can be beat over the top. He played a lot of off-man zone coverage at Illinois and is a sure tackler who is willing and capable of helping out against the run. He has good straight-line speed but can be slow out of breaks and doesn't have great hands. He did return kicks for Illinois but his ball security was questionable at best. He may get a look at punt returner in camp, but I wouldn't count on him winning the job. At the end of the day, Hawthorne will compete with Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian and Justin King for the 4th and 5th cornerback spots. One can only hope he can grow a mustache as badass as Nathaniel Hawthorne's.

Round 6

Justin Brown
WR - Oklahoma

Brown transferred from Penn State to Oklahoma in the wake of the NCAA sanctions. He was never spectacular with the Nittany Lions, posting 33 receptions, 452 yards, and 1 touchdown as a sophomore and 35 receptions, 517 yards and 2 touchdowns as a junior. However, after his transfer to Oklahoma he exploded with 73 receptions, 879 yards and 5 touchdowns as a senior. At 6'3" he gives the Steelers a tall receiver to challenge Plaxico for the fourth or fifth receiver spot. Brown also returned punts for both Penn State and Oklahoma, taking one back for a touchdown for the Sooners. As a rookie, this might be his biggest value to the team and he could win a roster spot through his ability to return kicks.

Vince Williams
ILB - Florida State

Williams played in the middle of Florida State's defense, which was one of the best in the country this past season. He made the defensive play-calls on the field for the Seminoles and is an intelligent player capable of diagnosing what is happening in front of him. He is very good at working his way through traffic and finding the ball, but can get caught taking bad angles in the open field. He isn't the fastest player on the field and thrives in run defense where he is a solid tackler. He had the best game of his career in the Orange Bowl against Northern Illinois. He should become the understudy to Larry Foote at the buck linebacker position and gives the Steelers an insurance policy should Sean Spence be unable to fully recover from his knee injury. If Spence spends the year on injured reserve, Williams would compete with Marshall McFadden for a roster spot as the fourth inside linebacker.

Round 7

Nicholas Williams
DT - Samford

Nick Williams, because the Steelers are trying to confuse us after taking two Joneses earlier took two Williamses, is an incredibly raw athlete with tremendous upside. At 6'4" 304 pounds he is very mobile and could play any position in the Steelers defensive front. He only played one year of high school football and wound up at Samford where he was second-team all-conference as a Junior and first-team all-conference as a Senior. Williams started during both his junior and senior seasons but still has a lot of learning to do. That said, he was one of the top performers among defensive tackles at the Combine and has a ton of potential. This was a tremendous value pick for the Steelers in the seventh round and might end up on the practice squad this year as a developmental prospect.

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